SAN DIEGO – Ford Motor Co’s “One-Ford” initiative goes beyond the global sharing of engineering resources, to better leverage economies of scale, by also including the way vehicles are designed.

The new ’11 Ford Explorer is a prime example of this collaboration, as its final production form is the result of a global competition among the auto maker’s top designers, says Melvin Betancourt, Ford’s exterior-design manager.

From the outset, Ford designers from North America, Europe and the Asia/Pacific region were tasked with reinterpreting the segment-defining icon as a contemporary SUV for the 21st century.

Designers were provided with a basic description of what defines an Explorer, which has been in Ford’s portfolio since 1990.

“We had to start thinking, what are (design) cues that make (the) Explorer?” Betancourt tells Ward’s during the ’11 SUV’s launch event here. “We also want to see what (the designers’) vision may be.”

One styling cue that all Explorers have shared through the years is prominent body-color C-pillars and blackened D-pillars. Initial guidelines also called for a vehicle wider than some of the cross/utility vehicles in Ford’s lineup.

Additionally, the vehicle had to have a 0.4 or lower coefficient of drag or lower, an edict that made designing the Explorer particularly difficult.

“You have to figure out how to keep the aspect of the design, yet get (CD) numbers where they need to be,” Betancourt says.

Although designs were submitted from the various global regions, Betancourt and his team, based in Dearborn, MI, won the competition.

But that didn’t mean the job was done, as Betancourt turned to the human body for inspiration, which provided the Explorer with its “fluidic” form.

“What I ended up doing is looking at athletes,” he says. “I looked at the muscles of the arms and legs and tried to capture the shadows and highlights of how they fit on the human body. Once we had the (basic) design, we came back and tweaked every surface to demonstrate that.”

To reach the aerodynamic requirement, Betancourt and his team made slight adjustments to various elements of the Explorer’s exterior, most of which will not be noticeable to the casual observer.

One such modification required the addition of a tiny lip on the Explorer’s rear spoiler. The spoiler, itself, was intended to reduce drag, but wind-tunnel tests showed it wasn’t doing the job.

“The spoiler helped the CDs, but we were still getting turbulence that creates drag,” Betancourt says. “So, we (added) a little lip that takes the turbulence and pushes it away from the vehicle. It made a big difference.”

The modifications whittled down the Explorer’s CD to 0.35, a number that helps the SUV achieve a fuel-economy rating of 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km) on the highway when equipped with the 3.5L V-6. City ratings have yet to be announced.

A 2.0L direct-injection turbocharged inline 4-cyl. engine will be added next year, which the auto maker says will offer even greater fuel efficiency.

bpope@wardsauto.com